In terms of elections, there was nothing remarkable about this one. A very divided nation split its differences all over the electoral map. One of the dynamics of a divided nation is that even small changes can have enormous consequences. That is why we fight so aggressively over not only the big things, but the little – and even the petty – things.
So, if you look at the electorate for some fundamental sea change, it was not there. Voters voted almost the same as they did two years ago. There was no great blue wave that swept over the nation. It was more like a seeping flood that gave a bit of a rise in the Democrat sea level – just enough to put the marginal Republicans under water in almost 40 House seats. The number of seats gained was not at all remarkable for an out-of-power party in a midterm election. But, it was sufficient to flip the House – and that has ramifications that far surpass the significance of the vote, itself.
The outcome in the Senate was also not remarkable. Republicans had a unique advantage in both the number of seats the Democrats had to defend — 23 to be precise (and two so-called independents who are in lockstep with Democrats) – compared to the eight seats the Republicans had to defend. Even worse for the Democrats, 10 of those seats were in states that Trump carried in 2016. The GOP won the seats they won in the past and picked off four (and counting) from the Democrats. This success happened because voters pretty much voted like they did in the past.
In governorships, the vulnerability issue was the reverse of that of the Senate Democrats. Going into the 2018 election, Republicans dominated the state houses and state legislatures by two-thirds. With that lopsided number being the highest in history, it would have taken a GOP red wave to not lose some ground – and so they did. But, not much. The GOP still holds the majority of governorships – and in many of the major states with large presidential electoral delegations.
As with the governorships, Democrats did gain back some of those 1000 state legislative seats that were lost during the Obama years. They flipped a few chambers but did not overtake Republican effective dominance in the nation’s state capitals.
Where the Democrats’ “little improvement” makes the biggest difference, of course, is in the United States House of Representatives. That small shift in voter preference gives Democrats their first real power base on the national stage – and you can bet that they will use it to the max.
While Republicans frittered away their advantage for the past two years over stupid and destructive intra-party feuds, the Democrats will provide lockstep loyalty under Speaker Nancy Pelosi. And yes, all that talk about dumping her was just campaign rhetoric by a few Democrat candidates who needed to win in districts where Lady Nancy is not very popular.
One of the other winners in this round was identity politics. As Democrats rolled on to an increasingly obvious takeover of the House, all those folks on MSNBC and CNN – and their interviewees — were talking about the identity of the winning candidates – not the issues of the people.
There was the first Native American woman heading to the house – albeit not the first Native American to serve in either the House or the Senate. Muslim women from Michigan and Minnesota – the latter taking over the seat vacated by Muslim Congressman Keith Ellison. The first openly gay governor. A couple of 29-year-old Millennials. And, overall, a lot more women – including GOP women.
The big loser in this midterm is President Trump. That was true of President Obama in 2010, which he famously described as a “shellacking.” But for Trump, it will be a much, much bigger loss. That is because issues will not matter in the House for the foreseeable future. In fact, Democrats do not have the power to fulfill ANY of the promises they made on the campaign trail because nothing will pass the Senate – and if something slips through, it can be vetoed by Trump. That is exactly the form of gridlock we saw in the past.
What the Democrats can do, however, is investigate, investigate, investigate and subpoena, subpoena, subpoena. Their primary legislative objective is not to protect pre-existing conditions, spend more on education or block federal judicial appointments. None of that can be done with control of the House only. As the initiator of federal budgets and expenditures, they can diddle a bit with finances.
With the unholy alliance between the press and the Democrats, they will mount an aggressive and unending politically motivated round of investigations designed to bring down Trump, destroy the GOP and demonize conservatism. Given the retaliatory and revengeful mood, even Trump’s youngest son Barron may have reason to worry. A bit of an exaggeration, but you get the point.
Yes, the 2018 election was not a tsunami, not a big wave, not an earthquake. It was is small predictable shift in voter preference that had one significant political impact – albeit a big one. This also means that this election did not reveal or change the trajectory for 2020 – the year of the presidential campaign that began this Wednesday morning.
So, there ‘tis.